“This is a competition, not a pageant,” is what Veteran and USFCR Case Manager Kelli Johnston was told at the Ms. Veteran America semifinals in Maryland. Although it has many pageant-like qualities, the Ms. Veteran America Competition is ultimately about raising funds to uplift women veterans out of homelessness. Out of the 2,800 initial applicants, Johnston made it through the semi-finals to the top 25. This fall, she’s looking to win the competition with the final show in Hollywood on October 7, 2018.
To make it to the finals, Kelli underwent three segments of the semifinals. First, there was the interview. In front of a panel of five judges, she was asked a variety of questions on a range of different topics. Some of the subjects included current events, military history, and the ultimate mission goal of Final Salute Inc. She also had to explain why she was competing and how she was going to make a difference for the charity. Final Salute is the organization that the competition supports that provides women veterans with suitable and safe housing.
What followed next was the talent portion.
“I’ve been a drummer since the 3rd grade,” says Johnston, “I played all the way through high school religiously, but I let my adult life take over that.” Kelli can play any percussion instrument that’s put in front of her. She also jumps on the chance to play a drum set whenever she can get her hands on one. To make her performance standout, she played the quints.
“They’re my favorite thing to play, and it’s not a traditional instrument for a competition talent piece,” she adds, “so I felt that I would have the rare ‘wow’ factor on my side.”
Finally, there was the fundraising portion of the competition. Johnston raised $3,525 to donate towards Final Salute Inc. This amount did not include all the money she raised with her “Savin’ Hunnies by Rasin’ Monies” t-shirts. Currently, she’s working to double her funding goals to $7,000 as the date of the finals draws near.
Supporting Women Veterans
“In order for me to win the pageant, I have to get out and be a liaison for the women who don’t have a voice. I will do whatever it takes to get my voice heard and to bring awareness to the fact that there are homeless women veterans suffering to just have a home to live in because of the lack of support and funding…and pride,” says Kelli.
She also had the chance to sit down and give a testimony to Lysa Heslov, director of the documentary “Served Like a Girl”, to answer questions. Heslov is currently filming a continuation of the documentary. Although bringing up her past experiences was rough, the filmmaker and her team were fully supportive.
What Kelli wants others to know about her participation in the competition is all the support she has been receiving. As a single mother of two little girls, she doesn’t have much of it at home. She’s grateful to her sponsor and current employer US Federal Contractor Registration. Eric Knellinger and Dan Driscoll helped her a lot during the competition requirements phase. She has also received a lot of encouragement from her fellow co-workers at USFCR and veterans in all parts of the world.
To help Kelli reach her competition goals and to help homeless women veterans, there are a few links to donate below. Just $25 can provide one day of clothes, food, and hygiene to a homeless mother along with her two children.
Donate and Follow
Ink to the People (t-shirt)
For updates, you can follow her official social media accounts: